Niederreiter and de Haan headline New York Islanders CHL prospects

By Kyle West

Photo: Selected fifth overall in the 2010 draft, Nino Niederreiter made the NHL out of training camp only to be returned to the WHL‘s Portland Winterhawks after nine games. During that nine game stint however, the Swiss forward showed that he not only already has the size and speed to compete in the NHL, but the offensive acumen to potentially compliment Isles star John Tavares. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)



OHL

Casey Cizikas, C, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 4th round (92nd overall) in 2009
February 15th 1991, Ht: 6’0, Wt: 185 lbs

Taken 3rd overall in the 2007 OHL draft, Cizikas had a strong rookie campaign with the Majors but a disastrous draft year. In 2008-09, injuries, an abysmal plus-minus rating, off-ice legal issues, and a particularly bad season for Mississauga saw Cizikas’ stock plummet. With only 36 points in 55 games and a minus-15 rating on the year, scouts began to pick apart his game and express concerns over his size and lack of physicality. Cizikas dropped to the fourth round where he finally saw his name called out by the Islanders.

Two years later, the Isles may be thinking they have themselves a fourth round steal. Cizikas is now the captain for Mississauga and has started the season showing even further improvement on last year’s campaign. After being drafted, Cizikas worked hard on his all-around game and has developed into a strong two way player. He has also benefited from a growth spurt that has brought him up to a solid 6 feet and 185 pounds. Always able to dominate offensively with a blend of quickness, smarts and soft hands, Cizikas has developed his game without the puck to the point where he is the Major’s top penalty killer. A plus-32 last season, he has become the go-to guy for the Majors and a top prospect for the Islanders. Projecting as a third line NHL center with some offensive flair, Cizikas will be a key part of the Islander’s strength down the middle in the near future. To date Cizikas has 12 goals and 10 assists in 18 games.

Calvin de Haan, D, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 1st round (12th overall) in 2009
May 9th 1991, Ht: 6’0, Wt: 180 lbs

Islanders GM Garth Snow went off the board to get de Haan at the 2009 draft, trading up twice to secure the slightly built defenseman at the 12th overall spot. Rated 25th by the International Scouting Service, most scouts were wary of de Haan’s slight build and his struggle to contain larger players in his own end at times. What Snow and the Islanders brass saw was a smooth skater who had the poise and presence that has been lacking on the Isles defense corps since Denis Potvin retired. Two years on and de Haan has added 20 lbs and grown an inch while continuing to move the puck with authority from the back.

After a season interrupted by injury, the 19-year-old has reported for one more season with the Oshawa Generals in fine form and already scored one of the great goals of the season on an end-to-end rush. To date, he has 16 points in 15 games. With an entry level-contract in his pocket, de Haan will be looking to make a pro debut with the Islanders sooner rather than later.

Tony DeHart, D, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 5th round (125th overall) in 2010
March 20th 1990, Ht: 6’2, Wt: 202 lbs

Riding shotgun for his Oshawa General teammate de Haan, fifth round pick de Hart is a rough and ready customer who can also chip in some offense. Scoring 10 goals and adding 40 assists in 68 games last season shows the offensive upside in his game while the 82 minutes in penalties demonstrate his willingness to mix it up. His minus-23 rating however indicates the downside of his game. So far this season, the 20-year-old has one goal and eight assists through 19 games and is a plus-eight.

An awkward skater at times, DeHart also takes himself out of position looking for the big blow-up hit and he can make life uncomfortable for himself with poor decisions with the puck in his own end. A vocal presence in the dressing room, DeHart is considered a coachable prospect and likable personality who, at the very least, can watch de Haan’s back as they progress through the ranks together.

QMJHL

Kirill Kabanov, RW, Lewiston MAINEiacs
Acquired: 3rd round (65th overall) in 2010
July 16th 1992, Ht: 6’3, Wt: 176 lbs

On his third team in three years, Kabanov has at least had a positive impact off the ice for the Lewiston Maineiacs after being acquired from Moncton. With six straight wins since acquiring the skilled winger, the Maineiacs have yet to see Kabanov’s name on the scoresheet but he is drawing a crowd. Skating on a variety of lines and seeing some powerplay action, Kabanov is being integrated slowly with the Maineiacs but his fame has earned some notoriety in the Lewiston area. The club came close to being relocated recently and has seen interest in the game tail off, but with the arrival of Kabanov ticket sales are booming.

Once hailed as the “next Ovechkin” the big, fast winger with dazzling hands earned himself a problem child reputation after holding out on his KHL team to come to Moncton and then walking out on the Wildcats to go back to Russia. Still available in the third round of the 2010 draft, the Islanders could not pass up a chance to claim what was once considered a certain top-five selection. Unlikely to turn into a selfless grinder overnight, Kabanov could at least benefit from some humility and a more team-oriented approach. With his new team off to a great start and the draft spotlight having moved on, perhaps a stay in Lewiston will inspire him to start realizing his potential.

WHL

Nino Niederreiter, LW, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 1st round (5th overall) in 2010
September 8th, 1992, Ht: 6’2, Wt: 203 lbs

On the other end of the selfishness spectrum from Kabanov there is Niederreiter. A team-first player with a strong work ethic, “El Nino” has earned his success through hard work and commitment. An unheralded rookie from Switzerland at the start of last season, Niederreiter became the power forward prospect everyone wanted after scoring 36 goals in 65 games for the Portland Winterhawks. He then became a fan-favorite at the World Junior Championships when he scored the goal that eliminated Russia from the tournament and brought the Swiss into medal contention with six goals in seven games.

Taken fifth overall by the Islanders, he made the team with a strong camp and celebrated his first NHL goal
during a nine-game stint before being returned to junior. Reunited with Ryan Johansen (CLB) and Brad Ross (TOR) on the ‘Hawks top line, Nino has six points in his first eight games back and Portland, which also features 2011 top prospect Ty Rattie, looks to be a contender in the WHL. Nino will soon be smiling in an Islanders’ jersey again but for the moment will look to apply his enthusiasm in a position where he can dominate.

David Toews, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 3rd round (66th overall) in 2008
June 7th 1990, Ht: 5’11, Wt: 185 lbs

Forever in the shadow of his Conn Smythe winning brother Jonathon, David Toews left the University of North Dakota early just as his brother did, only not for the NHL. The 20-year-old from Winnipeg joined the Brandon Wheat Kings after two years with the Fighting Sioux.

Off to a strong start in the WHL, Toews has 10 points in 11 games and has been a key performer on the man-advantage. Both Toews brothers went the NCAA route despite the pursuit of WHL teams, so it is a reconciliation of sorts for David to appear on a WHL roster. A third round selection by the Islanders in 2008, the younger Toews has many of the same attributes that make his brother such an effective hockey player but will never be anything close to the elite performer that Jonathon is.

The Islanders will soon need to decide if there is enough skill there for a reasonable chance of success at the next level.